Sunday, 09 May 2004

Apparently now is the beginning of a prime period during which we'll be able to best see the International Space Station as it races across the sky. If you haven't ever taken the time to step out and watch the sky to see this before, you should do so - Realizing that there are people up there on that thing is really pretty mind-boggling when you think about what it takes to make something like the space station happen and work.

SPACE.COM: During the next couple of weeks, North Americans will have many opportunities to see the International Space Station, due chiefly to a seasonal circumstance. From now through the beginning of July, nights are shortest and the time that a satellite in a low-Earth-orbit (like the space station) can remain illuminated by the Sun can extend throughout the night, a situation that can never be attained during other times of the year.

You can find out when you can see the station at any of several web sites, including:

Here are a few links to SkyWatch data for cities people who know me are likely to be in. If yours is not listed, check out the full city list.

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Sunday, 09 May 2004 10:49:26 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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We interrupt this serious blogging effort to bring you something completely irrelevant.

You know it had to happen. Remember the Star Wars Kid? Of course you do. Seen Kill Bill? Of course you have. Maybe you even bought the t-shirt. Well, here you go:


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Sunday, 09 May 2004 00:34:11 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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German police arrested the 18-year-old author of the Sasser virus. Apparently he also confessed to authoring other viruses, including NetSky.

Which is good. But not amazing. For the most part, the bad guys eventually get caught.

What amazes me is the fact that so many companies and government agencies were actually shut down by the Sasser worm. A friend of mine who works for a government agency called me tonight to tell me that last week the city, county and related agencies where he works were shut down by the worm.

My response: “WHAT?!?!?!!?!?” The departments that were shut down in my friend's account of the situation included public safety departments and a fire/police dispatch center among others... No small potatoes when you consider how critical it is that things just need to work. Maybe someone needs to lose his or her job.

Good vs. Bad, or “Dude, that's pretty extreme.”

I'm serious - this one was so easy to avoid, there's simply no excuse for having a problem. I can think of one only reason any company or agency would be affected, and come to think of it, it's a problem rampant the world over.

Sadly, some IT professionals aren't - well - they're just not very professional.

So, here's an important message for companies and agencies employing lazy IT staff: If they don't prevent the outbreaks, they're not doing their jobs. The mark of a good IT crew is not that they respond to a virus outbreak and make everyone feel good that they're able to disinfect computers and (hopefully) go to tape backups to restore ruined data. The good IT crew is not the one that tells you it will take two to three days to recover, and then “delivers” in one day.

So what, then, makes for a good IT crew? And how do you know if you have one? It's very simple: While everyone else is freaking out about viruses and other threats, your company is still operating and you're not really too concerned, because your company just doesn't ever have many network security issues. Besides, if there was going to be a problem, you would have heard about it from the IT crew by now. In other words, things just work, problems are prevented, work doesn't stop, and you don't have to worry. That's what a good IT crew does for you.

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth Big $$$

Believe it or not, I'm not supposed to be an exterminator. My job is to make sure the virus outbreak never happens in the first place, and the people who work in my department share in that responsibility. Ultimately, I am the one responsible (and held accountable) for network and data integrity when it comes to viruses and intrusions, but we all take a significant amount of pride in making sure problems never get a chance to occur.

What many may not realize is that it's actually pretty easy to do. In fact, it's a lot less work to prevent the problems than it is to react to them after they occur. Keeping a problem from happening is akin to preventing a cancer from ever growing; You can be so much more confident, and if the ability to prevent is there, it's simply negligent to assume the reactive posture. The removal of a cancer is painful, time consuming and expensive. Worse yet, you almost always have to wonder if you got it all, if it will ever resurface, and what the result will be when it does.

To be perfectly clear about where I'm going with this: I believe that organizations need to adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward avoidable downtime. Virus outbreaks should be very few, very far between, and extremely isolated in scope. If a virus infects an entire network, something is not being done correctly. If data is lost and can't be recovered, there's simply no excuse.

Kick Me If You Like, But I Know I'm Right

Some who work in the IT field will read this and be upset with me. Am I really telling people like my boss to fire their employees if they can't prevent the problems from happening?

Yes, in a matter of speaking I am. After all, if I can't (or rather “won't,” since pretty much anyone can) protect the company from internal and external threats, I am not doing my job and my boss needs to find someone who can (and will). While there are occasional threats that cannot be prevented, he knows that those are so rare that he'll know when the exception to the rule occurs.

IT professionals around the world, regardless of the organization's size or business, should hold themselves to this standard. If you're an employer, you're responsible for maintaining or hiring people who meet the standard.

We no longer live in a world where the guy your neighbor knows who “works in computers” is sufficient for a professional IT job. Even the interns I hire require a special skill and work ethic that's hard to find. High standards make for quality work and results, and I think that's the way it should be. To expect less in this day and age is to neglect the needs of the real world of IT.

It's Bigger Than Just Your Organization

By the way - when the people responsible to do the prevention at your organizations fail in their duties, who do you think those failures impact? It's not just your employees and customers. The nature of the Internet is that your failure will almost certainly impact many organizations outside of you own. That's what virus writers count on, that the poorly-designed and -managed networks of the world won't be proactively managed, and that employers who don't know the difference won't do anything about it.

If you're the employer and you can't for the life of you determine whether your IT employees know how to do their jobs, here's your best clue: They probably don't. It's one of those things where you know if they're doing their jobs. How? It's a dangerous world we work in; If they are not educating you and keeping you aware, they're not doing their jobs.

For the Record - Bad Employers Are Part of the Problem

Before I finish, I should say that I realize the world is not black-and-white, that there are many aspects of operational IT work that can put a very good and responsible IT professional in a position where he or she is doomed to fail. There are times when, despite the best efforts of the individual, the budget or company priorities actually prevent you from doing good security. I only see two options for you there: One is to make them aware, change the outlook and attitude, and failing that the second option is to find a place to work that will leverage your skills and and fits your priorities.

Line In The Sand

So, here's the challenge: I think that anyone responsible for day-to-day IT security who walks away from these words upset that I'd adopt this position probably needs to take a look at why they're upset. Seems to me if one does one's job, there's nothing there to be upset about.

Anyhow, that's what I think. It's a little more black and white in writing than in real-world practice, but I've read and re-read my words, and I'm good with them. This started out to be a short post about the 18-year-old kid who wrote a computer worm. It ended up becoming a bit of a rant about what really matters to my employer. Catching this kid doesn't mean less viruses and worms - We still have a job to do, and it's just getting more and more complicated as time goes on.

And since all good blog entries should include a question, tell me: What do you think? Click the comments link and talk back if you're so inclined. I could be wrong, you know. ;-)

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IT Security | Tech
Sunday, 09 May 2004 00:13:40 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 08 May 2004

I decided today to look for cool stuff and tie up a few loose ends from the past week. Nothing big - Just a few things that will probably change the way you work or live in the future that I thought you might like to know about, if you don't already. Not that I really know how they all work, I just find them very, very interesting:

How to Bundle Active Directory Application Mode with Your Directory-enabled Application - Microsoft created ADAM to let developers us Active Directory as a dedicated LDAP service. Someone was asking me what I know about it, and how to ship ADAM with his application. This article talks about how to bundle the ADAM setup as part of your app's setup. ADAM is cool. This makes it cooler. It may not change the way you live, but the potential is there to change the way people like me work.

Mono Beta 1 has been released - What the heck is it? No, you won't end up in bed for weeks wishing you could just die. Think of it this way: Write C# code and run it on Windows or Unix. This is big. It's a .NET framework for Unix, and when you think about it, the possibilities are - well - pretty interesting. Interoperability, here we come. It's worth noting that Microsoft released the whole .NET thing to the community to do this kind of thing. And for those who wonder why anyone should care, the abstraction layer of the .NET framework allows you to write and deploy much more secure (read: managed) code. That matters. That's probably not a great explanation, but someone else can chime in and comment if they want. :-)

Keyhole is Super-Cool and Addictive - I ran across Keyhole a month or two or more ago, but forgot to blog about it. I don't know why, I mean this company has only mapped out the entire earth - more than seven terabytes of map images are on their system. I think the first time I saw their technology and started looking for it was when the news shows started doing these fancy fly-over maps of Iraq to show their audiences where certain cites, battles or whatever were happening. In the future, this kind of tool will be commonplace. Imagine tying this capability into a GPS-enabled application and speaking instructions to your car, then having it show you, step-by-step and in 3D detail, to your destination. Or dream up your own uses and ideas.

Well, During an excellent presentation about Longhorn by Chris Sells the other day where I work, he showed some forward-looking stuff that reminded me of the coolness of this new application. When Longhorn arrives and we get its amazing 3D graphics system, we'll no doubt see some amazing new things taking advantage of applications like this one. At any rate, no need to wait for Longhorn to see what this can do. Anyone with eyes and brain (and hopefully broadband) should truly enjoy themselves on this site today. Oh, and if you happen to have a nVidia graphics card, be sure to check out Keyhole NV and see Mars. A free trial account is available, and it's worth the download is you have a computer that's less than three years old (older than that might be too slow).

Longhorn - The Next Version of Windows - As mentioned above, Chris Sells, who works for Microsoft and speaks regularly about Longhorn, the way-cool next version of Microsoft's operating system, spoke at Corillian (my place of work) the other day. Chris is a great speaker and he convinced me about the one necessary assumption upon which Microsoft appears to be betting the company: Longhorn will be to Windows XP as Windows 95 was to Windows 3.1. They want people to flock out to get Longhorn the same way they did with Windows 95. they'll spend more in marketing the next version of Windows thank they've ever spent marketing any other product, ever.

Now, if you were around for the debut of Windows 95, you know what I mean and how big a deal this statement is. For those of you who are too young to remember, but are old enough now to be interested (yes, I am speaking to you Scott), well hold on tight - The ride's about to begin. The world of computing as we know it will (once again) change dramatically.

Want to see where things are heading? Check out these concept videos that show some of the new capabilities that will reach our homes and offices one day soon. They're geared toward business solutions, but show a lot of the new features and make you think about the possibilities. Note that one of the videos (the commercial real estate one) leverages the Keyhole world imagery application and data mentioned earlier - in combination with mapping applications like MapPoint. Neat stuff.

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Saturday, 08 May 2004 18:10:22 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 06 May 2004

Two of my coworkers, Scott and Patrick, have been musing about what it means to be a coder. Or a geek. Or whatever. I'm not a coder (to be sure). But many people do consider me to be a geek. So at least in certain circles, they're not really the same.

Anyhow, Patrick had an interesting comment about his son. He mentioned that he has taken to calling himself “geek, son of geek.” Heheheh that's cool. He also mentioned his son's a little miffed that they don't have a t-shirt that says that.

Have no fear, my friends. Your fears and miffed-ness are silenced by my own personal form of geekdom.

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Thursday, 06 May 2004 11:15:34 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 04 May 2004

And the list of nifty OneNote SP1 Pre-Release information (and the coolness factor) just keeps on growing…

Andrew May, of the OneNote dev team, today posts a pre-release article that will be published in its final form whenever the final version of OneNote SP1 is released. I’ve started playing with some one the command line switches described in the article.

Whether or not OneNote is running at the time, you can use the command line switches to start up some type of OneNote functionality. Whether it’s starting or joining a shared, network-based note-taking session, opening a OneNote page and automatically starting to record video or audio (or passing a command to stop a recording in progress), importing content, or any one of several other functions, the new ability to script and remote start OneNote in a variety of ways is something that many will find useful and powerful.

Already a few ideas are running around in my little head – Shared note-taking sessions that are always available, programmatically starting new sessions or creating new notebooks and pages based on variable input from any one of a number of sources… Custom name the notebook and session, start sharing it, import content from some source or the clipboard, and start collaborating... The sky’s the limit!

By the way: If you're a developer or technical implementer of OneNote, Andrew May's blog is a required read. Great stuff there. If you're an IT decision maker, don't miss Chris Pratley's blog. Read and learn.

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OneNote | Tech
Tuesday, 04 May 2004 18:40:49 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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